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New Orleans Saints vs. Minnesota Vikings Point Spread - Pick

New Orleans Saints (12-5 SU, 9-8 ATS) vs. Minnesota Vikings (13-3 SU, 11-5 ATS)
NFC Divisional Playoff
Date/Time: Sunday, January 14, 2018 at 4:40PM EST
Where: U.S. Bank Stadium
TV: Fox

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com

Point Spread: NO +4/MIN -4
Over/Under Total: 45

The New Orleans Saints come to Minneapolis on Sunday for a NFC Divisional Playoff matchup with the Minnesota Vikings. The 13-win Vikes sat out last week, the main perk of being the 2-seed in the conference. They await the incoming Saints, who were successful during Wild Card weekend with a hard-fought 31-26 win over the Carolina Panthers. The Vikings have overcome a lot this season and look to be a major threat coming out of the NFC. But the Saints have made a lot of strides on both sides of the ball and beating a good Carolina team for the third time this season last week underscores how dangerous they are—even in this ultra-difficult road-spot. Who will win this Saints-Vikings playoff game?

The Saints won't be coming into unchartered territory at least, having played the Vikings here in week one. The Vikings won, 29-19, but those early-season results can be misleading and that would seem to especially be the case with a Saints team that really blossomed over the course of the season. After an 0-2 start where they looked to have a lot of the same problems that led to three straight 7-9 seasons, they got their act together and won 12 of their next 15 games, including last week's big win over the Panthers. If you like the Vikings in this matchup, there are a lot of reasons to feel that way without putting too much credence in that week one game.

The Saints have a lot of firepower on offense, with multiple ways to put points on the board. Drew Brees put up 376 yards against Carolina, with both WR Michael Thomas and WR Ted Ginn, Jr. well over 100 yards last week. When able, the run-game is really able to take over, with a pair of pro-bowl backs in Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, both of whom can be very effective aerially. Brees is still as on-point as ever, even if he will celebrate his 39th birthday a day after this game. He completed over 72% of his throws this season and works well behind a line that did a lot well this season despite some personnel issues. You have a still-elite QB in Brees who knows how to win in the postseason with a vast cast of guys who can make a difference. It might not be as easy to contain this side of the ball as it was in the first week of the season.

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The New Orleans defense started the season looking like they'd be a team-liability once again. And while there have been weeks over the course of the year where they didn't look great, they really improved from where they were a short time ago. They don't really need to be a shut-down unit. They just need to be OK and make enough big plays to tip things in their favor. And for the most part this season, they've been able to do that. Rookie Marshon Lattimore has become a big asset at corner and with Ken Crawley at the other corner and Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams at safety, the secondary can actually be a team asset. The middle is patrolled well with Craig Robertson and Manti Te'o, while Cameron Jordan is big with the pass-rush on the edge. Again, they can be scored upon and are far from iron-clad, but they've become a lot better this season and aren't the constant team-drawback that they were.

The Vikings are really a study in perseverance. With head coach Mike Zimmer's expertise, the Minnesota defense has become perhaps the best in the league and is a big part of this team's overall success. But the way they have overcome injuries on offense that would have crippled most teams says a lot about their character and depth. Major injury issues to their quarterback for the second season in a row threatened their progress and losing a budding star back in Dalvin Cook didn't help, either. They delved into their deep bag of backs and got the ground-game rolling, while a guy a lot of people wrote off in QB Case Keenum stepped in and was huge this season. This Vikes team is for real, as their 13 wins will attest.

Again, Keenum growing into the role of a quality NFL starter was a pleasant surprise this season for Minnesota. What really helped was an offensive line that found its stride this season, as well as a running-game that stayed strong despite personnel issues. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon have teamed up nicely to make the Vikings one of the top ground-games in the conference. Keenum also works well with his aerial targets. Adam Thielen had a big year with 1276 yards through the air, though he's been quiet in recent weeks. WR Stefon Diggs had TD catches in each of his last three games. TE Kyle Rudolph is one of Keenum's favorite targets, especially in-close. He had 8 TD catches this season. With the defense Minnesota has, the offense doesn't need to be great. But they have been pretty good and could peak in this postseason.

The Minnesota defense is really special. At home with the stakes high and rested, this looks to be a major matchup concern for the Saints and those who might fancy them this week. They were ranked tops in the NFL—both in yards and points allowed. They are a stout unit that got better over the season and can make a lot of big things happen. Up-front, Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter were huge in the pass-rush, while Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson did well in keeping the opposing run-game in check. Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr were huge in the middle. The pass-defense grew in stature with passing time this season, as Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, and Andrew Sendejo have been tremendous, with that being a particular area of Zimmer's expertise. They enter this spot having given up a paltry combined total of 17 points in their last three games.

Giving this game another layer of intrigue and analysis is the adversity both teams had to overcome to get to this spot. It took a sudden reversal in form for the Saints to right the ship to this extent. And it says a lot about the Vikes that they extracted a 13-3 record out of the conditions they faced in 2017. When panning the landscape of this game for potential outcomes, one thing stands out for me, which is the Minnesota defense. Even with what the Saints can do on offense, it seems to be asking a lot for the Minnesota "D" to not play really well in this spot. I see the Vikings winning and covering the spread in this one.

Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Minnesota Vikings minus 4 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today by signing up and betting the New Orleans vs. Minnesota game at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 50% sign-up bonus!

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